Tour Du Mont Blanc (French Side) Part 3: 2nd Day Hiking

Les Contamines to Refuge Du Bonhomme

Camping Le Pontet offers a nice small breakfast for hikers with plenty of coffee to fuel up before the 2nd day of hiking Tour du Mont Blanc. I set out before 8 am, with hikers in front of me and behind me. All headed in the same direction.

Leaving Camp Pontet
Leaving Camp Le Pontet

The beginning is mostly flat and tree lined. A mixture of gravel trail and roads with small outcroppings of various buildings littering the first 1-2 miles of hiking. The crisp morning air was refreshing and the tree covered section should be relished before the upcoming elevation gain and rising sun (another day in the European heat wave).

A small stream/river runs along this flat section of trail, and you will spot a beautiful small church across a bridge on your right. This is named Church of Notre Dame de la Gorge and is a known tourist attraction in the area. I wish I could have viewed the interior; I heard it is beautiful.

Church of Notre-Dame de la Gorge

Immediately after I passed the Church, the trail turns to slick stone and begins heading steadily uphill. Another hiker had mentioned that this section could be very slippery in the rain, but luckily we had dry conditions this morning. During this uphill section, I got trapped behind a slower moving American tour group who had hired a guide for their own personal Tour du Mont Blanc trip. Their large guided group hike was in stark contrast to my personal solo adventure. If I was traversing with a 10-15 person group, it might have been beneficial to choose a guided trek; it was nice to hear their guide explaining various facts about the Tour and offering different advice on hiking.

First uphill behind group
Beginning Uphill Climb 🙂

The smooth rock uphill climb is pretty enjoyable, with trees on both sides. The coffee was still pushing me forward at a quick pace and I made it past the American tour group and flew upwards — for the mountains were calling….and I needed to find them.

Continuing to gain elevation, the trail winds through the forest and offers some waterfall views along the way. Both of which were cascading with large amount of snow melt and supply a good excuse to take a break.

Trees and Stream
Trees and streams 🙂

After tree surrounded trekking all morning, you eventually break away from the forest and immediately are presented with mountains on all sides. Of course the ones in front are upwards, and I knew that the elevation gain was not going to stop. However, the next 2 miles of trail was extremely pleasant and relatively flat. Several small mountain hostels are located on each side of the trail. Around 10:30 am I arrived at a very well kept public restroom area high up in the mountains. Immediately following this is a very cute hostel/restaurant with an outdoor patio. Many of the hikers who were at the same hostel as me the night before were stopping here to rest and refuel.

Leaving Forest into mountains
Leaving the forest, for mountains



After the long morning climb, I was happy to arrive at this small refugee (La Balme) and sit at one of the umbrella covered tables. Here I ordered a coffee and small breakfast while enjoying nearly 360 degree views of green fields and jagged mountain peaks. The owner here spoke excellent English and for $4.00 — I had the most beautiful location for a small breakfast.

Lunch Cafe

After leaving the cafe, I hiked onward with beautiful cow pastures on both sides. Refueled by brunch and coffee, I sped forward towards the approaching elevation gain, which i could see several miles in front of me. This entire section of hike honestly seems like something out of a postcard — almost like it is not real.

After breaking away from the cow fields, the trail begins heading steeply upwards towards today’s summit. Elevation is again difficult but not without great rewards. The view I stumbled into, was nothing short of the quintessential sights I have always imagined the Alps would offer. It is a beautiful section for hiking upwards.

View backwards to lunch cafe
The view backwards, the lunch cafe is down on the right

Rolling stone covered fields behind, and jagged mountain peaks ahead. This section of trail should be relished by all. If the steep incline didn’t slow me down, the constant looking around definitely lowered my pace.

Luke hiking up.jpg

I was lucky enough to have some fellow hikers snap a picture of me on this climb. Again you can see the distant trail that I’ve already covered, and the extent of the elevation gain that I would assume is only about 1/3 complete by this point.

I met some fellow American hikers here. They were from New York and we talked briefly about their plans to do the Tour du Mont blanc, as well as home. It’s interesting to run into American’s on European treks. You get so used to talking with locals and visitors from other European countries — you sometimes get very excited to talk about anything from home.

I would end up leap frogging with this group several times today; them passing me and me passing them. The trail onward is slow progress. Speed is hindered by by elevation as well as my first encounter with snow!

Heading up to Col Bron1
Beautiful Hike!
First snow
First snow!

The summit becomes more apparent in the distance, and now the hike is more perseverance than anything else.

Rocky and snowy switchbacks will become your new best friend while hiking the final stretch towards Col du Bonhomme (the first summit for today).

Reaching the Col is somewhat of a mixture between trying to catch your breath while simultaneously having your breath taken away from this 360 degree Alpine view. The summit was filled with 30-50 other hikers relaxing, enjoying the views, and snacking. I stopped to chat with my American friends, and met a group of cousins from Australia as well. **Travel Tip: Talking to strangers while hiking helps me feel more cemented into the fabric of the trail, while also providing someone to take pictures of me 🙂

Top of Col Bron
Finally reaching today’s first summit! AMAZING 360 views

After taking a needed break, I left Col Du Bonhomme and steered myself towards the next summit for today. Trekking through the now often snow covered trail and climbing over boulders and rock outcroppings protruding through the ice.

After Col Bron1
View between the Cols

The area between Col Du Bonhomme and Col de la Croix is amazing. There is not a  structure in site — and you are graced with mountain views at every turn. After Col Bron2

Through my conversations with my fellow hikers, I learned that habitations headed forward could be very sparse….and many had booked ahead in Les Chapieux (the small village where I had planned to stay) However, I had heard of a beautiful mountaintop hostel just over the next Col. It was a little shorter than I planned on stopping, but I figured they would have a phone to call ahead and check on accommodations further down the mountain.

Immediately after crossing Col de la Croix, I saw the amazing Refuge Col de la Croix du Bonhomme — perfectly named for the two amazing peaks I had just traversed.

Refuge Col Bronhomme
The most amazing views you could ever want from a hostel

I entered the hostel, and asked the front clerk to check ahead for accommodations. It was still pretty early in the day (2 pm), and my plan was to continue onward. After a few minutes of him speaking french to the other hostel, he hung up, smiled at me, and said — “It looks like you will be staying here tonight.” — apparently there was no room for me at the next Inn 🙂

I was happy to oblige, as the front porch of this refuge had the most beautiful mountain views, without another building in site. Also….they had food, beer, and a roof to put over my head.

Guitar Refuge
Thanks for the music!

The 4 American’s I had previously met today walked in not long after and we all shared a beer together. The hostel provided a guitar which one of them was happy to play and provide music for our small group. I actually found out their names! (Emily, Brian, Tyler, & Nancy). They would end up hiking on to the next village, but the music and laughs were greatly appreciated.


I also ran into the Australian cousins and a girl named Julia who I recognized from the trail today. We all ended up having hiker family dinner at the hostel together and I even got to play a game of scrabble.

Refuge Col Bron View
Hard to beat this view from your front porch

Overall, today was difficult, rewarding, and gave me my first taste of the ‘real’ alpine spirit. Surrounded by nothing but fellow hikers, nature, and mountains.

Thanks for reading!

Luke Langhals


Extra Pictures from Today!

Extra Pics1
Green pastures surrounded by snow covered mountains
Extra Pics2
View from the Refuge
Extra Pics3
Ice and Rocks
Extra Pics4
View from Refuge Outhouse window









Tour Du Mont Blanc (French Side) Part 2: First Day Hiking

Les Houches to Les Contamines

My morning began with a quick breakfast in Chamonix and a trip to the local train station. From here it is an inexpensive 15 minute ride to a smaller village named Les Houches (Pronounced Lay Joose for my fellow American friends). A very nice semi-english speaking attendant was able to get me a ticket and show me where to board the train. This was my first train ride in Europe, and the step by step tutorial this woman provided would prove to be invaluable throughout the trip.

Upon arriving in Les Houches, you can begin searching for signs that say TMB. There was luckily a group of Brits headed to hike the TMB as well, so I asked them which direction I should be headed. The confident male responded “Just follow us, I think this is the way.”  His wife turned back to me and said “He has no idea….the blind leading the blind.” An expression that I ended up hearing multiple times during this trip 🙂

Les Houches Hikers from train
Following my fellow backpackers off the train

There are a couple ways to start the first day on the TMB hike — 1. you can take the cable car and eliminate several uphill miles or 2. you can begin at the roadside trailhead and climb your way up.

Les Houches Village
Walking into Les Houches to find the trail head

It is about a 15 minute walk from the train to the hiking trailhead, although I will point out that I passed through the town 3 times before actually finding the location to begin….. (It is through town, pass the visitor station & cable car, then under an overpass on your left)

Les Houches Trail Head
Here is the TMB trail head in Les Houches

I was here to hike, so I chose option 2 deciding to get a solid day of elevation gain. The trail starts with several hundred wooden stairs. The wooden steps and dirt trail gains elevation quickly before transferring back to a mixture of steep paved/gravel streets. Leaving the town, you will get a great view of the village and it’s surrounding mountains. This was the last point, I had phone service for the majority of today — the trailhead was a good spot to touch base with family before disembarking.

TMB Just Beginning
About 500 yards up the trail, climbing quickly

I happened to be in Europe during a complete and unforgiving heat wave. It was easily 90F outside and the sun was beating down upon the roadways. About 1/4 way into the climb, i regretted not taking the cable car and avoiding this part 🙂

The views though……do continue to expand as you climb through the first 5 miles of your TMB hike. Its steep and unforgiving, but it’s a beautiful beginning to this trip. Much like leaving civilization behind as you head into the great unknown escape of the Alps.

After much climbing, huffing, and puffing — you reach the first summit location (Col) known as Col de Voza; on top of which there is a large hotel that was serving a buffet style lunch for guests and hikers. $20 Euros for all I could eat, coffee, and drinks? Sounds great after climbing for several miles! Hotel name is: Village Vacances Col de Voza

I had lunch with some Irish friends while on top of the Col. We had met previously several times today; once while trying to find the trailhead and again while leap frogging during today’s grueling paved incline. Me passing them taking a break, to only be passed by them later on. They were a interesting bunch and I enjoyed the comradeship that comes so easily to hikers trekking in similar directions. I’ve hiked many different places, and there is no easier way to strike up a conversation than sweat stained eyes viewing uphill together at upcoming hardship. It breeds conversation.

Leaving Col de Voza; the trail immediately begins to descend steeply. Downhill was a nice break from the constant uphill I had just traversed. On the other side of the Col, views immediately begin to open in front of you…and they did not disappoint.

Decending View

After entering another valley and crossing a river, the trail switches back in an upwards direction until you reach the small village of Bionnassay. From here, the hike continues with extraordinary views, quaint small mountain villages, and a mixture of trail/road walking.

Small Village Day 1
Cute little towns

The journey after Col de Voza is significantly easier, and my pace was greatly accelerated. I was gaining Kilometers far quicker than the original uphill climb.I even had time to stop and chat with some fellow hikers utilizing one of the many public fountain areas located in a small town.

Fountain Bath
Public Fountains in town






The next stop was arriving in Les Contamines and finding a place to rest my head for the evening. Having booked no accommodations ahead — I chose to stop by the local tourism office. An action that I would do throughout my European adventure, as these offices are HUGELY useful in Europe and the workers are always quick to offer assistance/advice.

The nice gentlemen working here (seeing I could not speak French) called around to every hostel/inexpensive hotel seeing if they had a vacancy….sadly they did not. Good planning Luke with his ‘no booking ahead’ clause 😦

Luckily there was a campground with a hostel building that had a bed for me. I just had to trek another 2 KM outside of town to reach it. Not thrilled with the extra walking for today, I decided to have a quick beer on a patio in Les Contamines. My Irish friends from lunch arrived shortly after and we spoke briefly before I needed to set off and find my campground hostel. Those lucky bastards were smart enough to book a hotel ahead of time within town — cheers to planning ahead I guess.

I continued down the highway searching for Camping le Pontet, and a needed nights rest in the hostel.

The campground itself was very clean and the dormitory area was full of fellow TMB hikers. I received a top bunk and had opted for the communal hiker dinner. This was served family style with tables of 6-8 people all sharing communal dishes. My particular table did not include any English speakers, but I was happy to sit there eating dinner and enjoying a nice local beer while listening to stories that I couldn’t understand. Overall, it was an inexpensive place to stay and the dormitory area had partition walls between many of the beds for privacy, a shared common area for boots/relaxing, and a massive shared shower/bathroom area to clean today’s sweat off of me.

Communal Dinner
Community “Family Style” hiker dinner — very common scene on the TMB

In summary, this was a very good start to my European hiking adventure. I felt good about my pace, hiking ability, and was not overwhelmed at any point. Onwards to tomorrow; where I knew my journey would become more secluded from towns and further dive me into the mountain wilderness.

Hike Map
Hiking route for Day 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines


Tour Du Mont Blanc (French Side) Part 1: Getting to Chamonix, France

Part 1 = Getting to the start of Tour Du Mont Blanc

I decided it was time for me to do some backpacking in Europe; However, I could NOT decide if I wanted to do the Camino de Santiago or Tour Du Mont Blanc… I decided to try and do sections of both in June/July of 2019 🙂

My plan was to do 3-4 days on the Tour Du Mont Blanc, visit Avignon to scratch my history itch, move across France to begin the Camino, Run with the bulls in Pamplona, and continue walking across northern Spain for as long as possible — easy enough right?

I chose the French side of the tour because most other hikers move counterclockwise and I wanted to start with the “herd.” The TMD crosses through the corners of Switzerland, France, and Italy. I thought one country at a time made the most sense for a partial trip on this amazing hike.

Map of Tour Du Mont Blanc route

I began my journey by flying into Geneva.

Funny Travel Note:

My planned flight left Columbus, stopped briefly in Toronto, landed in Montreal to refuel, and then off to Geneva, Switzerland.

My flight between Toronto and Montreal was slightly delayed, but from my understanding — I would be staying on the airplane which would continue onwards to Geneva. However, upon landing I was notified that the plan had changed and I would need to disembark the aircraft and go to a different gate to make my international flight.

I went to the desk after hustling off the airplane and asked which gate my next flight was leaving from. The women typed some details into her computer, looked up and said “The Geneva flight is going to be leaving from Gate 56 in 5 minutes, and we are currently at Gate 1.” I stared at her trying to grasp the small window I was being provided, and she looked back to say “I don’t need you to walk fast….I need you to run!”

This was my first time ever sprinting through an airport. And oh boy did I sprint. I would be damned if I would miss my flight to Europe and postpone my trip. I dodged, and shoved, and ducked between confused fellow airport travelers. The intercom spurred me faster — “THE GENEVA GATE WILL BE CLOSING IN 2 MINUTES — ALL PASSENGERS MUST BOARD IMMEDIATELY.”

During my stampede through the crowded airport, I thought that this was ironic that I would be running with the bulls in Pamplona within the next 2 weeks. For in this airport in Montreal, I was the bull. Parting the crowed and slamming through with no consideration other making my connecting flight.

I arrived at the Gate with a few other sweating and frazzled passengers. The shut and locked the gate behind me as we boarded and took our seats. I made it 🙂

Upon arriving in the Geneva airport, I had planned to explore the city and begin my European adventure with a day walking the streets of Switzerland. However, upon landing, I could feel the mountains pulling me and the hustle bustle of the city immediately disenchant me.

I had discovered the OMNI app before heading to Europe. This amazing little phone application will show you the time & costs for buses, trains, and flights between any two locations in Europe on any given day. Pretty nifty for getting last minute connections around the continent.

OMNI was nice enough to find me a bus from Geneva to Chamonix, France — leaving the airport within 2 hours. The bus pickup location is a little difficult to locate; it is directly across from the main terminal exit, but you need to cross the taxi/pickup lanes to get to the bus pickup area.

Phone Apps for Traversing Europe:

OMNI (Bus, Train, Ride Share, Plane) (Private Rooms and Some Hostels) *Free night every 10 nights booked

Hostel World (Hostel booking)

Hiking Project (Trail Maps and Topo maps with GPS location tracking)

After a couple hours on the bus, I finally arrived in Chamonix and was soooo happy to finally see mountains surrounding me. Mountains and raw nature always provide a calming effect on my soul.

Chamonix 1
The town of Chamonix, France

Using the App, I found an adorable little hotel with a private balcony in downtown Chamonix within a 10 minute walk from the bus stop. I decided against a hostel knowing that I would be staying in hostels for the foreseeable future and wanting some luxury for my first night in Europe.

After checking in and assembling my pack in preparation for beginning the hike the next day; I ventured out to explore this quaint mountain town. Chamonix France is an outdoor lovers paradise. A ski town in the winter and a mountain adventure in the summer. I passed many shops selling ski/snowboard equipment, hiking gear, and mountain bikes. The streets were a hodgepodge of unique French countryside architecture, small cafes with outdoor patios, and restaurants. I was reminded closely of another town in the United States that I like to visit — Chamonix is comparable to Steamboat Springs in Colorado.

Chamonix Luke
Having a beer in Chamonix — getting ready to begin hiking

Overall, I’m glad that I made it to Chamonix and spent a day exploring the town and preparing to begin this section of the Tour Du Mont blanc. The following morning I would need to find my way to the trail head.

Chamonix 2
Chamonix Fance 2019